The Vanderbilt Mansion is an incredibly prestigious and historical landmark in the Hudson River Valley that I got the pleasure of touring this past weekend. I have visited the grounds many times before, but never took an official tour inside the house. The house was built in the late 1800s by the grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Fredrick William Vanderbilt who lived in Hyde Park during the fall and spring seasons with his wife Louise Vanderbilt. My initial impressions of the house, grounds and staff were welcoming. The grounds were very clean and well kept by the Nations Park Service. The house was well preserved from the outside, maintaining the integrity of the original structure and keeping with the original architectural designs. The staff was extremely helpful, informative, and funny, keeping all the tour members attention.
The tour provides a brief background on the Vanderbilt family, their money, and their legacy in the northeast United States. The National Park Ranger, who served as a tour guide, also provided a background on the dimensions of this house, the land, and other houses that they own. This particular Mansion was originally 700 acres of land, now a little over 200 acres, and was sold to the National Park Service in 1939 as per President Roosevelt’s suggestion.
After we entered the house, we were allowed to explore the rooms on the first level. The design clearly indicated which time period it was created in and the type of lifestyle that the Vanderbilt’s maintained. The house was very ornate with large marble columns and accents, imported furniture and wood, fireplaces, and large sculptures. All of the ceilings in the rooms are hand crafted with different patterns and designs and the National Park Ranger explained what a normal dinner party would be like at a house like this. From the center of the first floor, you can look up to see the balcony area of the second floor, where many bedrooms were.
Upon going up, there is a similar design of extravagant sculpture, ceiling artwork, ornate features that demonstrated the prestige and power of the Vanderbilt’s. Fredrick’s room has a crown on the ceiling and over his headboard. This clearly shows just how Fredrick viewed himself, especially in society. The other rooms are just as beautiful and ornate. Though the tour did not go up to the third floor, where there were more bedrooms, it was clear what the third floor would look like based on the trends of the first and second floors. The purpose was to demonstrate the immense power and money that the Vanderbilt family had and what they chose to do with it. The National Park Ranger indicated to us as we descended to the basement, that we are leaving the ornate behind and going to see where the other half lived.
The other half, as in the 70-90 servants who worked in the house at any given time, lived downstairs where there were bedrooms, bathrooms, a washroom, laundry room, and the preparation kitchen. The basement was a vast area for the servants to prepare for the day before the Vanderbilt’s even woke up. The National Park Ranger indicated that of the servants who worked in the Hudson River Valley, the servants who worked for the Vanderbilt’s were making roughly $1.25 to $1.50 a day, whereas others were only making $.50 to $.75 a day. The Vanderbilt servants were seen as far better off than others in the area, which was an interesting concept when thinking of servitude and its history in the United States.
The tour was very thorough about the house and the people who lived there. The National Park Ranger covered all of the important details and answered everyone’s questions very nicely. It was a rather enjoyable tour and allowed for both “on your own” exploration and a guide to what you were looking at. Anyone who is ever in the area, I would highly suggest going to the Vanderbilt and taking a tour, in addition to taking in the wonderful scenery of the Hudson Valley. Though it was a cold day with a lot of wind, it was still an incredibly interesting and valuable educational experience, providing more history into the Hudson River Valley, a place that I have called home for the past four years.
-Kaitlyn Walsh, Marist ‘14